The ‘Wild West’ analogy reflects concern, not just about privacy violations, but that open data may enable the exploitation of the people about whom data has been collected. Products, services or insights generated from such data could bring financial or other gains to some people, but not to those from whom it was collected. Individuals could also be exploited directly using data collected from them. The fear of predatory practices by health insurance companies is one potential example.
Shah (2013) writes that, as a consequence of focusing on gaining access to data, some actors “ignore the politics of the data themselves, what the data reveal, or how they are used and for whose interests”. Some take this further, arguing that political parties and business have appropriated the open data movement on “behalf of dominant capitalist interests under the guise of a ‘Transparency Agenda’”, and that “the politics of open data are not simply commonsensical or neutral, but rather are underpinned by political and economic ideology” (Bates, 2013).
On the other hand, some point out that benefits arising from the use of data can reach the people from whom it is derived indirectly. In agriculture, for example, “smallholders typically do not interact with data, particularly in developing countries [yet] whether data are open or not will have an indirect impact on them as the ultimate beneficiaries of research and data on agriculture” (Devare, 2015).
- Bates, J. (2013, May 21). Opening up public data. Sheffield Political Economy Research Unit blog.
- Devare, M. (2015). Responses to ODI/GODAN discussion paper May 2015. Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition.
- Shah, N. (2013, June 24). Big data, people’s lives, and the importance of openness. DML Central blog.